New homes site finally takes off.

Work has started at the former Harperbury Hospital site, between Radlett and London Colney, where developer Bloor Homes is to build 206 new homes. The mental health hospital was effectively closed in 2001 and the buildings have been in steady decline ever since, due to the ravages of time and weather, as well as episodes of vandalism and theft. The new properties will range from one to five bedroom houses, with a provision for 72 affordable homes available under shared ownership schemes. As part of the development Bloor Homes will contribute £1.4 million to local healthcare provision, education and leisure facilities, and transport infrastructure.

What many people will not know is that much of the hospital site originally formed part of London Colney airfield, which began life as a safe landing ground for the Royal Flying Corps in 1916. In fact two of the RFC’s most famous World War One fighter pilots were at one time based there:

– Captain Albert Ball VC, DSO, MC was posted to No 56 Squadron at London Colney, prior to deployment to France in April 1917.

– Captain Edward “Mick” Mannock VC, DSO, MC joined No 74 Squadron at London Colney, before deployment to France in March 1918.

A number of American pilots underwent training at London Colney, and several of these, as well as Canadian and South African pilots, were killed in crashes around the area. Fatal crashes while training were a common occurrence in World War One – not surprising given that the first flight by the Wright brothers had only taken place in 1903, and that the technology and understanding of flight were in their infancy. Of the 14,000 Allied pilots who perished in the war over half died as a result of training accidents. Two of the British pilots are buried in St Botolph’s churchyard, Shenleybury, while others are among the 147 First World War burials at Hatfield Road cemetery in St Albans.

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In 1919 Middlesex County Council took over the London Colney airfield site as part of its’ scheme to expand mental health provision in the county, and in 1928 the first phase of this development was opened. This was named the Hangars Certified Institution, so-called because of the three remaining aeroplane hangars on the site. Further expansion of the re-named Harperbury Hospital continued, and the site grew until it could accommodate over 1500 patients by the early 1960s.

It would be interesting to know how many veterans of World War One found their way to Harperbury Hospital in search of treatment, or if any of the RFC aircrew who had passed through London Colney airfield during the war ever came back as patients.

For further information go to: and:

This article is part of our Celebrating St Albans History series. You can view all our historical facts on our Celebrating St Albans History page. If you have a historical fact you would like to add please let us know by using the contact form below or by emailing

If you are thinking of buying property in the area contact Anne McCarthy or Isobel Doherty for a fixed price  conveyancing quote. Bretherton Law Solicitors are legal experts based in the centre of St Albans with a wealth of local knowledge. Call us on 01727 869293 or ask a question using the contact form below.


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